Environment Undone is a data-driven investigation into how India is opening up its protected areas to infrastructure projects. We manually went through hundreds of documents dating back to 2014 and then our team member Pankhuri Kumar mapped the location of the projects, creating an interactive map. Team members Disha Shetty and Tish Sanghera then went on the ground to investigate projects, their impact on indigenous communities, and on the environment, to demonstrate the human and ecological cost of India’s development.
We were able to track some of the impact of the projects:
1) Prominent journalist, opposition party leaders and policy makers took note of our reporting and responded on social media with praise.
2) Media influencers in India used the project in their youtube videos to talk about how Indian government was handling the environment
3) An international project (EJAtlas) that maps environmental conflicts around the world incorporated our data in their project
4) Officials running a conservation project under the Indian government reached out to seek data that we had mapped
5) Another publication (Article – 14) republished the story
6) Our stories were quoted by other journalists writing on the issue of environment
7) Other journalists in India and a Latin American country (Ecuador) used the series in their talks
8) Team members Tish Sanghera and Disha Shetty were invited to webinars to talk about the project.
9) Local movements to save biodiversity hotspots used our project and data from there to make the case to protect environment.
We used data journalism, coding to visualize the data as well as ground reporting. We also took pictures and created videos for social media. Our series was a multi-media project. We also generously used maps, graphs and other illustrations wherever necessarily in the stories. All the data was contextualized using ground reporting and telling the human stories. We were also able to find inconsistencies in the data when we went out reporting.
We also wrote grant proposal and raised money through the Pulitzer Center to be able to tell this story and make this project possible. This project was a collaboration between journalists (Tish Sanghera and Disha Shetty) and an engineer (Pankhuri Kumar), who took care of the visualization as well as the newsroom of IndiaSpend.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The data we needed was not available in a downloadable format. They were spread across several hundred PDF pages uploaded to the government’s website. We had to manually open it and copy the data on an excel sheet which took us weeks.
Finding resources was a huge challenge as this project was nearly a year in the making. Pulitzer Center came to our rescue with the reporting grant.
When we began reporting the data and gorund reality didn’t match in a lot of instances and we went around in circles before establishing conclusively that the data was wrongly entered, either by mistake or intentionally. In that sense we were able to investigate what we set out to.
We also had to keep negotiating for extra time with our editors as the project kept widening in scope.
What can others learn from this project?
What other journalists can learn from this project is that data journalism is incomplete without ground reporting. The data is the starting point, it can point to broad trends, but it is the ground reporting that highlights the gaps. It when you meet the people that the data refers to on the ground when the context emerges.
While reporting on Environment Undone we discovered that had we just written about a few projects we would have been able to tell the human stories but not demonstrate systematically how India was opening up its protected areas. Our project highlights the value in marrying ground reporting with data and other reporting elements.